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I have put off writing this post, not because I don’t know what is fabulous about Quebec City at Christmas, but because it is near and dear to my heart. I don’t want to mess this post up! But then I realized I just have to show you pictures, and you will all be clamoring to go!
My family has spent the last 5 Christmases in Quebec City, Canada. Some of them have been with our extended family and some just our little family. We keep going there because once we realized how fabulous it is, we couldn’t stop ourselves from going back year after year. It has become what Christmas is to us.
Keaton, my youngest, thinks that poutine is what we have always had on Christmas Eve (after all, the last Christmas that we spent elsewhere he was only 6 years old). We have embraced ice skating on Christmas day with all the locals and have even come to love the freezing weather because it means the ice slide is open.
We continue to go back because I can’t think of another place on the American continent that does Christmas like Quebec City. The old city is magical on any given day, but add in twinkling lights, greenery on every windowsill, snow lightly falling, carolers singing, and you will feel like you were dropped into your very own Christmas fantasy.
Quebec is the only walled city north of Mexico and is one of the oldest cities in North America. Quebec is a French speaking province, and Quebec City is their provincial capitol. Therefore, you won’t find as many English speakers here as in Montreal. But rest assured that in the old city at least, most people speak English.
The walled city is known as Vieux-Quebec or Old Quebec and consists of the older lower town and the newer upper town. The older part contains the Rue de petit Champlain which is the oldest commercial street in North America.
Lower town Quebec:
Christmas food market
This is always our very first stop during our week in Quebec City. This market on the Old Port is just beyond the walled city and at Christmas time becomes a food market with Christmas specialties from around the province of Quebec. Our favorites include: maple syrup (prices here are very good), maple candies, and maple butter (we love maple).
The smoked fish counter, where we buy pounds of different smoked fish, is another favorite with our family. The sausage stall where strange and interesting varieties of meats are sold is another must visit.
Ferry to Levis
This ferry goes across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City to Levis. We took it on a whim a few years ago and found it to be amazing, not because Levis has that much going on, but because of the ice in the river. The boat pushes through the ice on the 15-minute trip across the St. Lawrence, and the sound of the ice shattering is unique.
Tip: If you go around 4:00 you will get a glorious view of Quebec City beginning to light up in the dusk on your way back from Levis.
Rue de petit Champlain
This narrow pedestrian road is cobblestone and lined with restaurants and shops on either side. It is one of the most picturesque parts of all of Quebec City at Christmas time. Most of the shops close early, but the restaurants stay open until much later.
Santa also makes an appearance here as it nears Christmas day. After your kids have a secret chat with him (he speaks English) you can warm up by the fire and listen to the carolers nearby. (Check the schedule here before you head down for a visit)
This might be my favorite place in all of Quebec City. This square is one of the oldest in Old Quebec. It features the oldest stone church in North America, named Notre Dame des Victoires. It also features an enormous Christmas tree in the center of the square. Carolers can be found in December singing near the tree.
There are so many steps from lower town to upper town, and if your feet have been walked off, or its really slippery, treat yourself to the Funicular. It is an elevator that goes on a slant up and down the hill from the Chateau Frontenac to Rue de Petit Champlain.
Upper Quebec City:
This German-style Christmas market has been around for some time but used to end the week before Christmas, which frustrated us to no end (we would arrive in Quebec City just after the market closed for the season). However, last year they kept it in business until the 23rd. The red roofed stalls line the side of city hall and spill into the area in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world. It is perched atop the steep hill in Upper Quebec City. Due to its position, you can see it from almost anywhere in the Old City. The Chateau Frontenac originally opened in 1893 and has been expanded three different times. As impressive as the exterior of the hotel is, the interior is much less impressive. There are good restaurants and a nice lobby, but other than that, it is just a regular hotel. So take lots of pics of the outside and don’t worry about visiting the inside unless you want to warm up.
Terrase Dufferin and the Ice slide
The boardwalk area outside of the Chateau Frontenac offers a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River and Levis across the river. It is also where you can catch the funicular to the lower part of the city.
In November the ice slide opens (depending on the weather) and it becomes a popular pastime for young and old alike. Ticket are available from a booth named Au 1884 located on the Terrasse Dufferin. The whole family can ride down this slide of ice on a toboggan.
My kids also love the cannon that line the terrasse. They are great for climbing!
Tip: If you are getting cold, there is a Starbucks right off the terrasse in the Chateau Frontenac. There is ample seating as well.
Plan on 30 minutes
Notre Dame Cathedral
This church is the oldest north of Mexico and has been on this site in one form or another since 1647. At Christmas time it hosts concerts and midnight mass. We have been a few times to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It is standing room only, but you can hear the glorious music even from the courtyard.
What could be more magical than ice skating on Christmas day in old Quebec City? Christmas music plays from the speakers, and the city is packed with merry makers. Our favorite place for skating is the scenic Place D’Youville, which is located just outside the city walls. The rink is not very large, but it is free to use. Skate rentals are available onsite as well.
Other favorite ice skating rinks are at the Plains of Abraham, which features a much larger skating track, and the Mega Parc located inside the mall, Galeries de la Capitale.
Outside of the Old City
The Galeries de la Capitale is a mall with an amusement park inside! The Quebecois are ingenious! We always spend a day in the mall before Christmas. We do our last minute shopping, ride the roller coaster, ice skate, eat, and even see a movie in English.
The amusement park is named Mega Parc and underwent a $52 million reconstruction this past year. We can’t wait to see the finished project!
The Aquarium de Quebec is located about a 10 minute drive from the old city. In late December it is decorated for Christmas, and if you stay until it gets dark you will be rewarded with a light show called Festilumieres.
The aquarium itself is as extensive as any large city aquarium. The kids loved the otters and the sea lions. Many fish were on display in large indoor tanks, and I was captivated by the beautiful movement of the jelly fish.
This exquisite french-style bakery is about a mile outside of the old city in the neighborhood of Saint-Roch. It is quite busy in the morning, but the employees move quickly. Order the Kouign-amann (pronounced “Queen Aman”) with strawberry or chocolate filling for the most heavenly breakfast.
Poutineville is just down the street from Le Crocumbouche, and we visit it almost as much as the bakery. Poutine is the most famous Quebecois dish. It consists of french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. Poutineville takes this humble dish to another level. It adds in meats, different gravies and cheeses. My favorite is still the classic, but my boys love to get their poutine piled high with meats.
Aux Anciens Canadien
If you want to try traditional Quebecois food, this is the place for you. This restaurant is housed in one of the oldest homes in Quebec City and features traditional food from the region. We have eaten here on Christmas Day and enjoyed reindeer filets, meat pies, duck, and caribou. Their Quebec maple syrup pie is incredible!
Le Chic Shack
This casual eatery has the best burgers in the city and some of the most delicious poutine. My favorites are the Le du fort burger and the La fumée poutine.
Maple ice cream
This is a family favorite from the grocery store! Delicious maple sugar crystals are swirled through vanilla ice cream. Yummy!
Maple syrup taffy
This sweet treat is a winter tradition in Quebec City. Long trays filled with fresh snow are displayed on sidewalks. Piping hot maple syrup is poured onto the snow in lines and then wrapped around Popsicle sticks. The crunchy snow coats the slightly warm and gooey syrup making for an unexpected textured treat.
If you can stay in Old Quebec City, do it! Being able to walk out of your Airbnb and be in the middle of Christmas is worth the slightly higher price you will pay.
Book a year in advance if you have a large group. There are not a lot of large homes in the Old City.
Parking is quite easy to manage in Quebec City. There is plenty of underground parking all around the old city. You can also park on the street, but the hours aren’t as flexible as underground.
Pack your warmest, most cozy clothes. The weather in Quebec is snowy and cold. Make sure you have good snow shoes and lots and lots of layers! Last year it got down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually it is around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit. If you find you are under-prepared there are many good sporting goods stores around Quebec City. My husband particularly loves the store “Sail”.
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